About the Initiative

Culture + Community in a Time of Transformation: A Special Edition of Culture Track is a national research and strategy project to keep the cultural sector in dialogue with its communities and participants during the pandemic, with the goal of informing deeper equity and justice. The partners and funders believe that:

  • the arts, culture, and community field must seize the opportunity not just to recover and restart but to rethink and transform;
  • a shared, nuanced picture of human assets, needs, attitudes, hopes, and behaviors in connection with culture can help the field become more equitable, pluralistic, and inclusive;
  • only by becoming more equitable and just in itself can the cultural sector play a more vital role alongside other fields and forces in the broader ecosystem of social change.

A broad, inclusive frame

Culture + Community in a Time of Transformation is a social research collaboration to explore the experiences, needs, attitudes, behaviors, and hopes of adults in all kinds of American communities in connection with the arts, culture, and creativity. In an effort to contribute to a well-rounded overall picture for the field, it differs from other pandemic-era research studies in several intentional ways:

We’re looking at the “users” of culture rather than the organizations or providers.

Since the early days of Covid-19, there have been several national, regional, and discipline-specific efforts to understand the impacts of the crisis on arts and culture organizations, artists, museum professionals, and other culture workers. We aim to complement that picture by listening to the participants, audiences, and “consumers” of culture as well as the wider U.S. population (see below).

We’re studying the broad U.S. population, including (but not centering) the affiliated audiences and supporters of culture.

From the outset of this collaboration, we’ve been researching American adults with all kinds of relationships to the arts, culture, and creativity — informal and institutional, nonprofit and commercial, etc. We’re working with NORC at the University of Chicago to survey a representative sample of adults in the U.S., in addition to a large sample of cultural attenders from the lists of participating organizations. Other COVID-era research studies are looking only at those audiences, subscribers, members, etc.

We’re asking questions about relevance, service, equity, and belonging, in addition to restarting.

Other audience research projects have been carefully (and usefully) measuring audiences’ intentions, expectations, and decision-criteria for resuming in-person attendance. As important as those questions are to many kinds of cultural organizations, we believe that it’s also vital to understand how cultural experiences can become more welcoming, inclusive, relevant, and of use to more people — and what roles arts, culture, and creativity can play in healing, justice, connection, and other forms of progress in American life in the years ahead.

We’re taking a wide, inclusive view of culture, including small and BIPOC-serving organizations and diverse settings and forms of engagement.

For the second wave of the national survey, we’ve invited an even wider range of cultural organizations to send the survey links to their participants, attenders, and community members. Some of those organizations create experiences for paying audiences; some work directly and actively with their communities, often at the intersections where the arts contribute to problem-solving and social services. Our research embraces the multiple forms, settings, and impacts of culture in American life.

Project origins

At the outset of the pandemic in 2020, Slover Linett and LaPlaca Cohen recognized the need for the arts and culture sector to listen, ask questions, and be in conversation with the communities it serves — including members of those communities who have long been underrepresented in direction-setting conversations. We began collaborating on a national research initiative then called Culture + Community in a Time of Crisis, key findings from which would be disseminated as a special edition of LaPlaca Cohen’s longstanding Culture Track study.

The collaboration would have three main research components, each of which would lead to reports, field conversation, and strategic activation:

  • Wave 1 national survey (2020)
  • Exploratory interviews with Black and African-American adults (2021)
  • Wave 2 national survey (2021)
  • Culture Track Summit

Lead funding for the 2020 phase was generously provided by the Wallace Foundation, with crucial additional support from Art Bridges, the Terra Foundation for American Art, FocusVision, and Microsoft. For the 2021 phases, The Wallace and Terra Foundations are joined by the Barr Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Aroha Philanthropies, Institute for Museum & Library Services, and Knight Foundation, with continued significant in-kind support from FocusVision (see Funding partners).

2020 national survey—and recommitting to equity & justice

The first phase of the initiative was an online survey completed by more than 124,000 adults in all 50 states. The survey was crafted with input from a national advisory group of both arts leaders and social scientists, and the questions were designed to be applicable to Americans with a wide variety of relationships to the arts, culture, creativity, museum-going, etc. Crucially, they covered both COVID-related and longer-term questions about perceptions, priorities, behaviors, and desires — including desires for arts and culture organizations to change. Survey invitations were sent to both the general U.S. population (via NORC at the University of Chicago) and the participants and audiences of more than 650 cultural organizations of various types and sizes. Responses from both samples were combined for analysis and weighted using advanced statistical techniques to more accurately represent the demographics, behaviors, and attitudes of the U.S. adult population.

The survey had been conducted but not yet analyzed when George Floyd was murdered on May 25. During the upswell of anger and activism that followed, we deepened our commitment to informing the cultural sector’s racial reckoning and efforts to decolonize and democratize. As we rethought our approaches, priorities, and team structure for the next two phases of the study, the Culture Track team developed a Key Findings report, which was released in July. The Slover Linett team then re-analyzed the data through the lens of race and ethnicity to write a policy report amplifying the perspectives of Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the U.S.: Centering the Picture, released in December (see Reports & Interactive Tools).

The project team also expanded to include Yancey Consulting, whose longstanding work toward equitable social transformation with generational impact became a profound influence on the planning for the next two phases of the project.

2021 research phases

Two additional studies are underway in the first half of 2021:

  • A qualitative exploration of the role of creativity, joy, belonging, and connection in the lives of Black and African American adults, undertaken in partnership with equitable research experts Ciara Knight and shaped by conversations with leaders at eight small, community-embedded cultural organizations around the U.S. The study, which involves in-depth, open-ended interviews with 50 individuals around the U.S., takes a humanistic and asset-based approach to understanding how arts and culture (including digital experiences) work in participants’ lives and communities. It will be an opportunity to explore some of the statistical insights about Black Americans that emerged from the Wave 1 survey data, and it will inform the design of the new survey in 2020.

  • Wave 2 of the large-scale national audience and community survey, , this time with an even broader range of cultural organizations participating, from public libraries to indie music venues, and an intentional emphasis on small, BIPOC-led arts and culture enterprises that serve and collaborate with their communities. With the help of a new group of expert advisors, the 2021 survey will include some of the same questions as the early-pandemic version so that we can see what has changed, but it will delve deeper into inclusion, equity, the role of arts and culture in healing and justice in American life — as well as the impact and future of digital engagement, which our earlier survey showed to be more diverse than in-person attendance was prior to the lockdowns. The survey will be offered in Spanish and Mandarin as well as English, and invitations will again be sent to both a nationally representative sample (via NORC at the University of Chicago) and the participants and audiences of up to 800 cultural organizations. To read the 2021 survey questionnaire, we welcome you to download the pdf of the survey instrument here.

Both phases will be shared with the field in distinct kinds of reports: key findings and strategic activation from Culture Track, and in-depth analysis and policy implications from Slover Linett. We hope this combination gives funders, practitioners, activists, advocates, and other stakeholders valuable insights to build a more just, equitable and thriving cultural sector as we emerge from the pandemic — and to help the sector contribute to a more just, equitable and thriving world at large.

Culture Track Summit

With generous support from the Knight Foundation, LaPlaca Cohen’s Culture Track team will host an online convening to discuss and activate the research. This participatory summit will take place in late fall, 2021 and is currently being planned. Stay tuned for details, and please visit culturetrack.com